Melbourne/Wellington: New Zealand has for the first time imposed a temporary ban on travellers coming from India, including its citizens, from April 11 to 28, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases among visitors to this country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.
The travel restriction comes after New Zealand recorded 23 new positive coronavirus cases in managed isolation on Thursday, of which 17 came from India, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield was quoted as saying by media reports.
While arrivals from India had triggered the risk assessment, Prime Minister Ardern said the government would be looking at risks posed by other COVID-19 hotspot countries.
The ban will begin from 4pm local time on April 11 and will be in place until April 28, she said.
"This is not a permanent arrangement but rather a temporary measure," Ardern said, adding that the temporary hold would also help reduce the risk that travellers themselves faced.
The ban covers all travellers, including New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. While there have been previous travel bans on travellers from some countries, New Zealand has never suspended travel to New Zealand citizens and residents, Ardern said, adding that she “absolutely understands the difficulty that this temporary suspension will cause” for Kiwis in India.
“But I also feel a sense of responsibility and obligation to find ways to reduce risks that travellers are experiencing,” she said.
"We have looked into whether we have issues with the accuracy of pre-departure tests - that has not demonstrated that is where the problem lies, so this suspension gives us a bit of time to look at the issue more generally," she said.
Ardern said New Zealand is not looking at temporarily suspending travel from other high-risk countries.
“We’re seeing surges in other places, but we just don’t have the higher number of travellers from those places."
Health teams would use the time until April 28 to try and plan safer ways to accept travellers from India. But there were no guarantees officials would come up with a better solution, she said.
"We haven't identified anything obvious ... but we have to try and do better," Ardern said.
She wanted to look at the quality of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 testing in other countries and whether tests were being taken in the 72 hours before departure.
Ardern said she could not answer whether the halt on arrivals from India would last longer than April 28.
New Zealand has not reported any community transmission locally for about 40 days.
COVID-19 cases were spiking again, particularly in India and Brazil, and New Zealand was not immune, Ardern said.
The government had been reviewing its border settings in recent weeks, Ardern said, adding that ultimately New Zealand wanted to see fewer cases arriving in the country.
COVID-19 cases in India hit a record high. India recorded 1,12,389 new cases on Wednesday, according to a PTI tally, taking the overall count to 1,29,14,174. The single-day rise in coronavirus cases breached the one-lakh mark for the third time in four days. India saw a record daily rise on Tuesday, with over 1.15 lakh new infections.
Auckland Indian Association president Narendrabhai Bhana said he had no problem with the New Zealand government's decision to temporarily suspend flights from India.
"We do realise that there are a large number of Covid cases in India at the moment," he said. "It's for the safety of our Kiwi citizens.
"We really have no problem with the New Zealand Government suspending flights from India until we can get on top of it," Bhana was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald.
According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the coronavirus has infected 2,531 people and killed 26 in New Zealand.